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The Warsaw Voice » Society » June 29, 2015
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From the editor
June 29, 2015   
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People tend to remember what they want to remember. This selective memory syndrome applies to different social groups and different generations. And politics, to a large extent, is about manipulating what people remember. Moreover, past events and facts tend to fade away and what was once important is no longer important today.

The results of Poland’s recent presidential election not only surprised, but also shocked the winners, the losers and the public alike. Just two months before the elections the incumbent, Bronisław Komorowski, had the support of nearly 70 percent of the public and many thought he would win in the first round. But his rival Andrzej Duda got half a million votes more (with turnout at 55 percent, at around 17 million voters.)

Everybody is asking “why?” and some are trying to provide answers. The general conclusion is that Polish society is actually very different to what we thought until recently. But I do not believe that society can undergo such a radical change overnight.

The ruling coalition and Komorowski’s election staff based their presidential campaign on two pillars. One was the sum of their economic, political and social achievements. The other was the fear of a return to the period when Poland was ruled by the Law and Justice (PiS) party from 2005 to 2007. Most people have bad memories of that time, but relying on this factor turned out to be a mistake. To begin with, the key achievements of the 25 years after the collapse of communism in 1989 appear impressive only when compared to the communist era. Young voters do not remember that far back. Freedom, the biggest achievement of all, is something they take for granted and thus do not appreciate fully. Their recollections of what happened a decade ago are also blurred, if they remember at all. For them, this could as well be ancient history.

Komorowski lost because he believed voters had long memories. But he also failed to take into account the fact that reality is not so much about what is true as about what people have been persuaded is true. It was his rivals who largely managed to take control of voters’ collective memory and imagination.

The presidential election was Poland’s first major showdown at the ballot box this year, but not the main one. The decisive moment will come in October when Poles choose a new government in parliamentary elections.
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